Grays, Walton, Benson talk bridge

More than 25 years after they first envisioned a trail bridge crossing Cottonwood Creek, from left, Bob Gray, Lois Walton and Marjie Gray discuss the project’s status with Buena Vista special projects director Joel Benson.

The phrase “Rome was not built in a day” was coined to remind makers and creators that building something great takes time and shouldn’t be rushed. But even the builders of ancient Rome would be impressed by the patience of the Buena Vistans who have waited more than 25 years to realize their vision of a trail bridge over Cottonwood Creek upstream from the intersection of Marquette and Arizona streets.

“Now I’m pretty sure I will live long enough to see this happen,” said Bob Gray, a former BVHS woodshop teacher who along with his wife Marjie took on the bridge project with trails advocate Lois Walton, BVHS science teacher Jeff Keidel and others in the mid-1990s.

Along with some new crosswalks, the bridge will provide a safe non-motorized route from Marquette to the existing trail on the east side of Arizona.

“People drive really fast on that part of Arizona,” said Jane Cole, who lives next to the planned bridge. “There’s a blind hill and no shoulders so it’s pretty dangerous to cross Arizona. I look forward to kids having a safer route to school and everyone having a path that’s safer and gives them a chance to enjoy passing over the creek.”

In 2018, Cole and her husband Ryan removed a major impediment to the bridge when they sold the town a small part of their land on the east side of Cottonwood Creek. That was more than 20 years after the Grays and Keidel worked with the town to get a state GOCO grant and buy the necessary patch of land on the west side.

Gray remembers the small celebration the group held in 1997. “We had balloons. There were about five people there. The newspaper came and covered it.”

It took a few more years for the town trustees to get on board. But by 2010, the town landed a CDOT grant and matching funds from Chaffee County to build the bridge.

And that’s when the serious waiting began.

“There was staff turnover at CDOT and at the town. Parts of the project were neglected, other parts were misunderstood,” recalls Joel Benson, town special projects director and a former trustee and mayor. “We changed engineering firms. Options shifted with the sale of private property. Different parties were involved at different points in time, and that hindered good productive communication.

“There were times when we said, this is impossible,” said Benson. “But of course, that would have meant reimbursing CDOT for what we’d already spent in planning and engineering.”

The town and its engineering firm, Ollson Engineering, kept plugging away.

“Finally, a few years ago, we were very close to final approval of our engineering designs. But so much time had passed that CDOT had changed its regulations,” said Benson. “And the floodplain map had changed. And we had to do a study on sensitive habitat for the leopard frog.”

The project was recently approved by floodplain experts at FEMA.

“We’re now the closest we’ve been to getting it done,” said Benson. “CDOT is in its final review and hopefully all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed and we receive CDOT’s approval soon. We hope we can put it out to bid this winter for construction in the spring.” 

Walton hopes the parcel on the west side—flat and high above the creek and shaded with cottonwoods—will be developed into a small park, with picnic tables.

One can imagine her and the other bridge champions gathering to savor the sight of cyclists and pedestrians crossing the bridge that took so much patience to create. “I’d really like to see that before I leave the earth,” said Walton.

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